Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (2024)

These days with the popularity of Pinewood Derby® racing and the information available on the internet, most racers in competitive Youth races already know the importance of wheel and axle preparation along with proper weight distribution. Therefore, to finish first in these competitive races, the Race Team needs to also focus on both Alignment and Aerodynamics (discussed in the next article).

Alignment refers to the arrangement of the wheels and axles in the car body in relation to each other and the body itself. Three areas on a Pinewood Derby® car must be aligned; failure to do so leaves speed on the track!

This chapter covers Alignment in detail; however, an animated video that presents the same information is available here:

Key Alignment #1 - Rear Wheels

The rear wheels should be set at a 3-degree angle (camber). This angle reduces friction as only a tiny portion of the wheel makes contact with the track. Plus, the angle makes the wheels migrate outward on the axle, rubbing against the axle head rather than the higher friction-prone body. Additionally, the wheel riding against the axle head stabilizes the wheel and helps prevent wiggling. The axle holes (and, therefore, the wheels) must be at the same height, and precisely aligned to each other.

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (1)

The rear wheels must be parallel to each other and the car body. Additionally, the wheels must be located directly across from one another. Finally, if rules do not prohibit, the rear axle holes should be placed 5/8ths (0.625) of an inch from the car’s rear. Moving the rear wheels increases stability and maximizes speed by keeping the rear wheels on the hill of the track longer.

If the wheels are not parallel, they will be in a toe-in or toe-out orientation or a combination of these two. These orientations create a situation where the rear wheels are no longer in sync to steer in the same direction, increasing friction at the axle head and the contact point between the wheels and the track.

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (2)

Key Alignment #2 - Fore/Aft

To ensure proper alignment, the front and rear of the car need to be level with each other. This is measured by comparing the distance to the track (or another flat surface) at the front and back of the car (providing the bottom of the car is flat).

However, running a three-wheel rail riding setup requires a canted front wheel; this tilts the wheel and raises the front of the car.

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (4)

When the front of the car is higher than the rear, it causes a toe-out orientation on the rear wheels, increasing friction and allowing air to enter the back of the wheels, slowing the car.

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (5)

Additionally, the higher front end increases the aerodynamic profile of the car, exposing a larger surface area to the airstream allowing the airflow to push against the bottom of the car, reducing the weight born by the front wheel and therefore decreasing stability.

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (6)

The front axle hole needs to be placed at a precise amount higher than the rear axle holes to eliminate the problem of the front of the car being higher than the rear. This placement ensures the rear wheels are not in a toe-in or toe-out position.

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (7)

Key Alignment #3 - Side to Side

The front wheel steers into the rail to stabilize the car. A stable car is much faster than one that wiggles. However, if not addressed, the rear wheel on the same side as the steer wheel will also rub the center rail creating additional friction that yields no benefit.

To eliminate this problem, the front of the car body where the wheel is attached is cut in or notched a precise amount, enabling the rear wheels to be an equal distance from the center rail. This notch ensures the rear wheels do not rub the center rail or go down the track slightly sideways, increasing friction and slowing the car.

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (8)
Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (9)

Solving the alignment problem

Properly aligning the car can be difficult. However, Key Alignment #1 (rear wheels) can be solved using one of several drill fixtures on the market.

Key Alignments #2 (fore/aft) and #3 (side to side) are more difficult as they interact. First, to level the car front to back, you need to drill the front axle hole a precise amount higher than

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (10)

the rear. Next, however, you must bend the steer axle precisely relative to the hole height to ensure the car is level. Additionally, the amount of the axle bend affects the amount you need to move the steer wheel inward toward the middle of the car by notching the body.

Here are the three elements that must be precisely calculated and implemented in order to solve Alignments # 2 and 3:

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (11)
Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (12)

Achieving these parameters using traditional tools can be difficult. However, tools are available that address each critical area and ensure the holes are drilled in the correct locations, the body is notched the correct amount, and the axle is bent to the correct angle. They are available here and here!

PRO RACER TIP FROM DWS Racing: It is better to have the front of the car slightly lower than the rear, versus the front slightly higher than the rear. If you cannot precisely set your front hole height to achieve level condition, err on the side of caution, and place it so the front of the car is slightly lower. Lowering the front of the car is accomplished by raising the front hole height (or decreasing the bend in the front axle).

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Articles in this series (click to read):

- Learn Pinewood Derby from the fastest racers in the world!

- Purpose of Pinewood Derby

- The Foundations of Pinewood Derby Speed

- The Keys to a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

- Pinewood Derby Rules

- Anatomy of a Professional Pinewood Derby Rail Riding Car

- Pinewood Derby Wheel Preparation

- Preparing Pinewood Derby Axles

- Proper Pinewood Derby Car Weighting

- Pinewood Derby Car Alignment

- Pinewood Derby Car Aerodynamics

- Pinewood Derby Car Body

- Pinewood Derby Car Lubrication

- Pinewood Derby Car Assembly

- Questionable Pinewood Derby Information

- Pinewood Derby Race Day

- Pinewood Derby League Racing

Pinewood Derby Car Alignment (2024)


How far apart should the wheels be on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

League racers like small wheel gaps of 0.01 inches or so. The wheels are a significant source of potential energy drain on a Pinewood Derby® car.

How to use official Pinewood Derby wheel adjustment tool? ›

Push the ruled edge against the front and rear wheels on one side. Be sure that the rums of both wheels touch the ruled edge at all possible points. Holding the tool in place, pull the opposite set of wheels away from the car body and then be sure that they line up on the same lines of #4.

Should I sand the wheels on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

Starting with about 300 grit sandpaper sand the wheels. Work up to as fine of grit as you can find. Only sand enough to remove imperfections and make the wheel round as possible.

What is the best angle for a Pinewood Derby car? ›

The rear wheels should be set at a 3-degree angle (camber). This angle reduces friction as only a tiny portion of the wheel makes contact with the track.

How do you fix a misaligned steering wheel? ›

Loosen the bolt on the steering column and gently rotate the steering wheel until it is centered. Tighten the bolt and test drive the vehicle to ensure the alignment is correct. For more complex steering wheel misalignment issues, it is advisable to seek the assistance of a professional mechanic.

Why does my Pinewood Derby car wobble? ›

Pinewood Derby Wheels Wobble are a very common issue. Derby wheels are made with an injection molding process. Because they are not machined from raw material, flaws such as concentricity (wobble) will cause a wheel to wobble because the bore is not aligned with the outer diameter.

How do you reduce friction on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

The easiest way to reduce friction is to lubricate the surfaces that cause friction. Lubrication is an essential part of pinewood derby racing. Purchase a tube of dry PRO Graphite with moly and shoot it onto the axle shaft and inside the wheel bore. Spin the wheel so the graphite works in.

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